Harbaugh: Hunter has chance for 'big year'

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Harbaugh: Hunter has chance for 'big year'

SANTA CLARA -- Kendall Hunter showed last season with a 4.2 yards-per-carry average that he can rush in the NFL. But there's more to being an NFL running back than picking up yards, and as offensive coordinator Greg Roman explained, Hunter is adapting nicely.

Hes really starting to understand all the different things that go into playing running back in this league," Roman said. "Which is more than carrying the ball. Its pass-protection, route-running, catching the ball, ball security and the special teams aspect of things as well.

Hunter seems to have a beat on the carrying-the-ball portion of the job. He appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, rushing for 473 yards and two touchdowns. And he's shown significant burst to the outside this camp, breaking off a number of large runs.

Pass-protection detail would seem to cause more problems for the under-sized back.

Hunter slipped to the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft in part because of his small stature, but as the smallest player on the roster at five-foot-seven and 199-pounds, he's making his presence felt in his second NFL training camp.

I feel like I have an advantage over big guys because I can get under them and stay low," Hunter said. "Especially when they come between the linemen and they cant see me."

Hunter is in a great place to sharpen his blocking skills. Blitz pick-up is a point of pride for starting running back Frank Gore. The five-foot-nine, 217-pound back regularly gives up six inches and 50 pounds to the linebackers he turns away in pass-protection drills.

The soft-spoken Hunter is taking notes. He watched as much of Gore's film as he did his own this offseason, and based on his coaches' comments, it's paying off.

The first thing that comes into my mind when I hear Kendall Hunters name is, Football player, Roman said. He loves football. He loves to get out there and compete. He always gives his maximum effort."

"I think just his instincts, his vision, both have improved," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It just seems the feel, the experience is there and in tremendous shape, very strong, running with a lot of confidence."

Ive never seen Kendall Hunter have a bad day or a bad snap where he wasnt totally tuned into football," Roman added. "Kendalls becoming more of a well-rounded football player. Were really glad we have him. He gets better every day.

Hunter, who is also listed as the team's No. 2 kick returner behind Ted Ginn, will need to continue to get better to retain the back-up running back role. The 49ers brought in eight-year NFL veteran Brandon Jacobs and drafted Oregon standout LaMichael James this offseason, creating a skilled and crowded backfield.

The 49ers will likely limit the number of preseason snaps for eight-year veteran Gore, and expect them to give extended second-half playing time to second-round draft pick James.

That leaves plenty of time for Hunter to prove the raving words of the coaching staff will translate into on-field production.

It remains to be seen how the four talented backs will split time in the regular season, but based on the praise from his coaching staff, Hunter will be a big piece of the 49ers' 2012 campaign.

As Harbaugh put it, "I think he really has a chance to have a big year."

Tom Rathman to be inducted into 49ers Hall of Fame

Tom Rathman to be inducted into 49ers Hall of Fame

Former 49ers fullback Tom Rathman, who was not retained this season on Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff, will be coming back to the organization in a permanent fashion.

Rathman, 54, who spent a total of 23 seasons as a player and coach, will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame, CEO Jed York announced on Tuesday.

“Tom Rathman embodies everything this organization wants in its players, coaches and staff,” York said in a statement. “Throughout his more than two decades with our team, Tom set a tone for the 49ers both on and off the field. As a player, he was selfless, hard-working and dedicated to bringing his best every single day. Tom coached very much the same way.

"It was his mission to help every man he coached realize his full potential, as both a player and a man. Tom is family and we are so thrilled to induct him into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame, where he will take his place among the all-time greats in our team’s history.”

Rathman discussed having a role on the 49ers’ coaching staff after the hiring of Shanahan. But Shanahan had already promised the position of running backs coach to Bobby Turner.

“It was all positive,” said Rathman told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “I have no hard feelings. It’s just the nature of the business. Everybody just has to understand that. In pro football, coaches get fired and new guys come in and they bring their guys. I totally understand it. I don’t have a problem with it. Being in the business for 28 years, playing and coaching, you understand what it is. You can never take anything for granted.”

Rathman played for the 49ers from 1986 to ’93. He was a starter on two Super Bowl-winning teams and seven NFC West champions. Used mostly as a lead-blocker for Roger Craig, Rathman’s best season came in 1989, when he caught 73 passes for 616 yards.

After his playing career concluded with the Los Angeles Rams in 1994, Rathman entered into a career in coaching. He coached under Steve Mariucci from 1997 to 2002. He returned to coach with the 49ers in 2009, serving on the coaching staffs of head coaches Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly.

“I’ve always considered myself a 49er and I always will consider myself a 49er," Rathman said in a statement. "I’ll take that brand with me wherever I go because that’s who I am. It feels great to be with the guys who are already in the 49ers Hall of Fame. Dating back to Joe Perry, it’s an honor to be associated with the likes of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig and Dwight Clark.

"That’s a lot of history right there. To be able to say that you’re in a fraternity with those guys so to speak, the 49ers Hall of Fame fraternity, says volumes. It’s pretty special.”

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

The 49ers new draft grading system is inspired by the New England Patriots, but their draft menu consists of a lot more options.

“We’ve got just under 200 players on our draft board, that we see as draftable players on our board,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time in here and it was needed this year because I had a lot of catch-up to do. I can tell you that just (Sunday) night I finally got to the point, I always knew as a player like, ‘OK. I’m ready.’ That moment was (Sunday) for me where I said, ‘OK. I’m ready. I’m ready to go on this thing.’ That’s a good feeling.”

The 49ers have 10 draft picks scheduled for the three-day draft, including the No. 2 overall selection. With 73 players under contract, the 49ers figure to add approximately 17 rookies through the draft and as free agents. The NFL's seven-round draft will result in 253 players being selected.

Lynch was hired out of the FOX broadcast booth a week before the Super Bowl. The following week, Lynch assembled all of the team’s scouts for meetings in Santa Clara.

“When we first brought scouts in right after the Super Bowl we were kind of working off the old grading system,” Lynch said. “But what helped was the grading system that they use in Denver, which kind of derived from one that was developed in New England.”

One of Lynch’s first hires was former Broncos college scouting director Adam Peters as 49ers vice president of player personnel. New coach Kyle Shanahan was also familiar with the system because, like Peters, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff worked in the Patriots’ scouting department.

“In these last three weeks of draft meetings we moved over to that grading scale,” Lynch said.

“I’ve always been someone who thinks you should listen to multiple opinions and we’ve been very collaborative. I believe in strong opinions. Someone once told me, ‘Strong opinions, weakly held.’ So are you open to different thoughts and someone makes you think? But ultimately someone’s got to make decisions.”

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio recently told Boston-area reporters that New England's draft board consists of only 50 to 75 players who fit as draft picks for their team. The Patriots have seven scheduled draft picks but none in the first two rounds.

"I would say it varies year to year, but I would say our draft board is smaller than most," Caserio said. "We are trying to find players that we feel comfortable with on all levels that we would actually draft -- not that are going to get drafted.

"It's players that we would draft, that we would actually feel comfortable with in our program in some capacity."

49ERS 2017 DRAFT PICKS
1. First round: No. 2 overall
2. Second round: No. 34 overall
3. Third round: No. 66 overall
4. Fourth round: No. 109 overall
5. Fourth round: No. 143 overall (compensatory)
6. Fifth round: No. 146 overall
7. Fifth round: No. 161 (pick acquired from Washington in 2015 trade for TE Derek Carrier)
8. Sixth round: No. 198 overall (from Baltimore in trade with C Jeremy Zuttah for No. 186)
9. Sixth round: No. 202 overall (pick acquired from Denver in 2015 trade for TE Vernon Davis)
10. Seventh round: No. 219 overall (pick acquired from Cleveland in 2015 trade for Andy Lee)